Music of the Spheres: The 11th Ohio Battery at Battle of Iuka

The primary focus of this research log since its inception last June has been to discuss and bring forth hitherto rarely used or forgotten accounts that illuminate the sacrifice and heroism exhibited by Ohio’s soldiers on the battlefields of the Civil War. History records few more poignant examples of these traits than the struggle of the 11th Ohio Battery at the little-known Battle of Iuka which was fought September 19, 1862 in the wilds of northeastern Mississippi. “The 11th Ohio Battery entered the fight at Iuka with 102 officers and men, and of these 18 were killed and 39 wounded, many mortally. Of the cannoneers alone, 46 out of 54 were killed or wounded. Fox’s Regimental Losses in the Civil War states that the losses of the 11th Ohio at Iuka were 22% greater than that sustained by any other light battery in any one engagement during the war.” (Ryan, Daniel J. The Civil War Literature of Ohio. Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company, 1911, pg. 267)
11th Ohio Battery marker in Iuka, Mississippi

The fact that the battle is little known is a function of size, timing, and geography. Fewer than 8,000 men participated directly in the action but almost a quarter of these participants became casualties. The battle occurred a mere two days after the Battle of Antietam and would be overshadowed by the even more ferocious Battle of Corinth just two weeks later. In the fall of 1862, the nation was adrift in a sea of blood and for all its ferocity, Iuka was just another point on the way to greater horrors generated at places such as Corinth, Perryville, Fredericksburg, Stones River, and beyond. Geography also played a role: Iuka then as now was little more than a stop along the strategic Memphis & Charleston Railroad, and engagements fought this far west rarely elicited much notice from the influential Eastern newspapers or from post-war historians. Regardless, the story of the 11th Ohio Battery speaks to me as a sterling example of Buckeye courage and fortitude in the face of daunting odds. And it’s a story well worth re-telling…

The 11th Ohio Battery marched onto the field at Iuka, Mississippi under the command of First Lieutenant Cyrus Sears with six guns manned by five officers and 97 men. (Captain Frank C. Sands was the battery commander but was not present at the battle.) The battery had been mustered into service the previous October with men from Athens, Butler, Hamilton, Vinton, and Wyandot Counties and was then serving in the Army of the Mississippi under Major General William S. Rosecrans. The battery was armed with two six-pound James rifles, two six-pound smoothbores, and two twelve-pound field howitzers, and initially at least, two horse-drawn water tanks. “The uniforms for the men were made to order from actual measurement of the best material and each man was furnished with a pair of superior buck gauntlets in addition to the regular uniform,” wrote Whitelaw Reid. “The non-commissioned officers, in addition to their regulation saber, were armed with Beal’s patent revolver and the privates with saber bayonets.” (Reid, Whitelaw. Ohio in the War: Her Statemen, Generals, and Soldiers, Vol. II. Cincinnati: The Robert Clarke Company, 1895, pg. 855)
First Lieutenant Cyrus Sears commanded the 11th Ohio Battery and Iuka and would receive the Medal of Honor for his heroism.

The battery had taken part in the New Madrid and Island No. 10 campaigns under General John Pope in the spring of 1862, before arriving as reinforcements for General Halleck’s army at Corinth. By September 1862, the battery had been assigned to Colonel John B. Sanborn’s First Brigade which consisted of the 48th Indiana, 5th Iowa, 16th Iowa, 4th Minnesota, and 26th Missouri infantry regiments; this brigade formed a part of Brigadier General Charles S. Hamilton’s Third Division.

First Lieutenant Cyrus A. Sears (who would become a Medal of Honor recipient for his heroism at Iuka) wrote the following account of Iuka to his brother in Wyandot County, Ohio just three days after the battle. His brother shared the with the editor of the Wyandot Pioneer who then published it in the October 3, 1862 issue. To supplement Sears’ account, I have interspersed accounts from other participants including Lieutenant Henry M. Neil of the 11th Ohio Battery and a Confederate soldier who was among those who charged the battery on September 19, 1862…

Iuka, Mississippi
September 22, 1862
          Our long continued marching orders terminated in the midst of a splendid rain storm at 4 o’clock on the morning of the 18th, when the Army of the Mississippi started in quest of General Price and Co., then supposed to be in the vicinity of this place. It seems to have been the understanding that General Grant with about 12,000 men was to take an eastern road and come in on the rear of the enemy, simultaneously with the Army of the Mississippi under General Rosecrans who was to attack the enemy in front, or on the western side. The Army of the Mississippi marched about six miles the first day, nothing of importance occurring. We resumed the march at daylight next morning, the 5th Iowa regiment in advance, the 11th Ohio Battery immediately following. Skirmishing with the enemy’s pickets commenced at about 10 o’clock and thence continued all along the way, several being killed and wounded on both sides. When within about five miles of this place, we supposed that we had found the enemy in force and formed our line of battle accordingly.
11th Ohio Battery Flag (Phil Spaugy's Blog)

“The country was exceedingly difficult of passage, being from Thompson’s Crossroads to within about two miles of Iuka but little better than an uninterrupted swamp extending indefinitely on either side of the road upon which the column was moving. From the northern margin of this extensive bog to Iuka, the face of the country is broken into innumerable hills and ravines, the hills rising gradually higher and higher toward the north with southern slopes admirably suitable for the maneuvers of battle, or at any rate, admirably adapted to the posting of troops so that their fire could be simultaneously effective.” (Ingersoll, Lurton, Iowa in the Rebellion, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1866, pg. 101)

“The men knew that an engagement was imminent,” remembered Lieutenant Henry M. Neil of the 11th Ohio Battery, “but their immediate front was unknown and unexplored. As usual, we had no maps. While marching through a defile at the crest of a thickly wooded hill we noticed that the rifle fire in front was suddenly increased, but there was no pause to reconnoiter. The battery marched from the defile into within short range of Price’s whole army. As we emerged from the cut, this sudden concentration of rifle fire gave me the impression of being in a violent rain storm. The storm of bullets was passing just over our heads. We hastened to get into position and unlimber before they could get the range. We turned to the right into the brush and took position facing this road.” (Neil, Henry Moore & John Benjamin Sanborn. A Battery at Close Quarters: A Paper Read Before the Ohio Commandery of the Loyal Legion, October 6, 1909. Columbus, OH: The Champlin Press, 1909, pg. 6)

Sears: We soon discovered our mistake and moved forward with greatly increasing skirmishing until arriving within about a mile and a half of this place, when a volley of infantry and artillery from the enemy hastened us into line of battle on the double quick. Our front was in the form of a letter A, the 11th Ohio Battery being the apex, the 5th Iowa on their right, the 48th Indiana on our left, and the 26th Missouri in our rear to support us. Our position was among thick underbrush in which it was impossible for artillery to maneuver at all had there been occasion for it. Before we had half time to form, two divisions of the enemy commenced charging upon us; we reciprocated as fast as possible, and “hell was to pay in less than no time.” The enemy seemed to concentrate their fire upon the battery which suffered most severely as you can judge from the list of killed, wounded, and missing.

“The fighting commenced about 5 o’clock in the afternoon and from that time until darkness put an end to it, the conflict raged with a fierceness never exceeded in any combat between civilized men. In the immediate vicinity of the Ohio battery, the combat was terrible. The guns were manned with unsurpassed skill and kept constantly throwing into the Rebel ranks at close range a storm of fatal iron.” (Ingersoll, Lurton, Iowa in the Rebellion, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1866, pg. 102)

Captain DeWitt C. Brown of Co. C, 26th Missouri lay in support behind the 11th Ohio Battery and relayed the following: “The Rebels kept up a severe fire of canister from their battery which raked the sassafras bushes above our heads and wounded several of the battery horses in our immediate front. The battle had already become intensely exciting. The 11th Ohio Battery opened on the Rebels who in turn came on to the charge with deafening cheers. Simultaneously they opened fire of musketry upon the battery, the left wing of the 5th Iowa, and the 48th Indiana. Their line of battle must have been several regiments deep as volley followed volley in rapid succession.” (Letter from DeWitt C. Brown, Cincinnati Daily Commercial, September 30, 1862, pg. 1)

“When the 11th went into position Lieutenant Sears was in command. As junior First Lieutenant, I had the right section, while Second Lieutenant Amos B. Alger fought the center section. Acting Second Lieutenant William K. Perrine had the left section and Bauer the line of caissons. During the fight I succeeded to the command when Sears went to the rear with a wound; Alger was captured, and Bauer was killed,” wrote Lieutenant Neil. (Neil, Henry Moore & John Benjamin Sanborn. A Battery at Close Quarters: A Paper Read Before the Ohio Commandery of the Loyal Legion, October 6, 1909. Columbus, OH: The Champlin Press, 1909, pg. 8)

Private William H. Domm wrote the following account to the Cincinnati Daily Commercial: “At 5 o’clock the battery boys discovered the enemy advancing on our front and forming in line of battle at a distance of 200 yards from us. The fact was reported to Colonel Sanborn commanding the brigade who immediately ordered us to fire canister into their ranks. They were but 100 yards from us when we let out on them. After the first round, they started forward on a charge with a yell. We were then ordered to load and put two canisters in each load which checked the enemy a little, but still they kept advancing.” (Letter from William H. Domm, Cincinnati Daily Commercial, September 27, 1862, pg. 1)
Colonel John Sanborn of the 4th Minnesota

Sears: It is doubtful whether the history of warfare furnishes a parallel in destruction of a single corps in one engagement. The men of the battery as a whole exhibited obstinate and perhaps even foolhardy bravery. The 26th Missouri seems to have become panic stricken and entirely failed to support us. The battery was the first to open fire, and the last to close, until the rallying of our second line; the remainder of the men of the battery falling back after the infantry of our first line and the battery being now lost.

“The battery must be silenced or taken, Price saw, or he could make no headway. The Rebels were accordingly massed upon it to take it at whatever cost. Before this overpowering charge, the 48th Indiana gave way and the left of the battery fell into the enemy’s hands. Fresh troops came to the rescue, charged bayonets upon the exultant Rebels, and drove them from the guns. Three times was this devoted battery taken and retaken within an hour. The horses were all killed or wounded, most of the gunners were disabled or dead, the battery itself was little better than a mass of ruins as the guns themselves being the only parts left not riddled with bullets or torn to splinters by the fearful agencies of awful strife.” (Ingersoll, Lurton, Iowa in the Rebellion, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1866, pg. 102)

Private Thomas J. Abbot of Company E, 17th Arkansas Infantry was one of the Confederates assaulting the Federal position. He remembered: “When the battle began, the armies were about 400 yards apart but after an hour of hard fighting, we advanced on the enemy to within about 70 yards. After another hour’s fighting, we advanced again to within about 50 yards. We then moved on the double quick towards the enemy and when within about 30 yards they fired one piece of artillery at us with canister shot, but we pushed on across their line. We captured the battery, a sergeant, and a private. {This is undoubtedly the 11th Ohio Battery as it had just two men captured-DM} As we were pushing on to the enemy’s line, the smoke was so thick that we could scarcely tell the enemy from our own men. This private, who was wounded, cried out, “You are firing into your own men!” I passed the word back and the order came to cease firing. I asked this private to what company he belonged and found that he was with the enemy’s battery. I then passed this word back and as soon as the mistake was discovered, the firing opened again.” (Yeary, Mamie. Reminiscences of the Boys in Gray, 1861-65, Vol. I, Dallas: Wilkinson Printing Company, 1912, pg. 1)
Map of the Battle of Iuka for Lurton Ingersoll's Iowa and the Rebellion

Sergeant Major William T. Kittredge of the 4th Minnesota had a superb vantage point while stationed with the reserve to watch the struggle. He wrote to his father: “As soon as the rebels came up in full view, the infantry opened on them and they replied. The din was awful! Awful! Our fire told with terrible effect on their dense ranks, but they pressed on to within 50 yards when they broke and fell back but only to reform and come on again. And thus it went on for a little over an hour.” (Letter from William T. Kittredge, Norwalk Reflector (Ohio), October 7, 1862, pg. 2)

The 48th Indiana on the left was driven back which left the left flank of the battery unsupported and the 5th Iowa was soon driven from the right. Lieutenant Neil continues: “With the line melted away, the battery found itself facing in three directions and battling with masses on three fronts. The guns were being worked with greater speed and smaller crews. Cannoneers were falling. Other cannoneers coolly took their places and performed double duty. Drivers left their dead horses and took the places of dead or wounded comrades, only to be struck down in turn. The surviving men were too few to do more than work the guns. On the fifth charge, the survivors finally choked from the guns they would not abandon.” (Neil, Henry Moore & John Benjamin Sanborn. A Battery at Close Quarters: A Paper Read Before the Ohio Commandery of the Loyal Legion, October 6, 1909 (Columbus, OH: The Champlin Press), 1909, pg. 9)

Sears: Instances of personal bravery not to be exceeded were exhibited at almost every piece, two or three of which I will mention: John Ettle, after being mortally wounded by a shot through the breast, the blood flowing copiously from his wound, passing by me for ammunition; and smiling as though it were only a good joke, remarked, “Well, Lieutenant, I guess I’ve got hell but I’m going to try and give ‘em two or three rounds yet.” Suiting the action to the word, he continued at his post until he fell.
Acting Corporal Buckley fired three or four shots alone, after every other man at his piece was either killed or wounded. D.W. Montgomery continued at his post carrying ammunition until the last, when discovering there was a load in the gun, he seized the lanyard to discharge it when he was throttled by a big Secesh who raised his gun to strike him. He got rid of him by seizing a canister out of his haversack and administering it externally over the eye, flooring him. Henry McLoughlin did duty at his post after being wounded four times, once severely. Several of the wounded are severely hurt, two or three perhaps mortally.

“One singular feature of this fight was that but two members of the battery were taken prisoners,” wrote Lieutenant Neil. “The guns were captured and recaptured several times before dark. The battery men never abandoned them voluntarily. One Confederate prisoner afterwards said, “Those battery boys had so much spunk that we took pity on the few who were left.” (Neil, Henry Moore & John Benjamin Sanborn. A Battery at Close Quarters: A Paper Read Before the Ohio Commandery of the Loyal Legion, October 6, 1909 (Columbus, OH: The Champlin Press), 1909, pg. 13)

Sergeant Major Kittredge of the 4th Minnesota continues: “At length the battery was taken when three-fourths of its men and all its horses but three were shot and the infantry on its flanks were outflanked and borne back by sheer weight of numbers. The firing died away and the air rang with the exultant shouts of the Rebels! But the reserves were ordered up and our regiment was hurried around to the spot. All I remember was a rush, a deafening volley, another and another, and we held the battery again while the Rebels fell back to return no more. Darkness came on and there we lay in line amid the dead and wounded. I slept but little I assure you.” (Letter from William T. Kittredge, Norwalk Reflector (Ohio), October 7, 1862, pg. 2)

Sears: Although the battery was thus severely handled, it fully reciprocated. It fired about 100 rounds, nearly all canister, right into the face and eyes of the enemy, doing terrible destruction among them, as they freely acknowledge. Our first line was now overpowered and fell back, leaving the battery with the exception of the men in the hands of the enemy. Forty-six out of the 84 horses with which we went into action were killed, and a large proportion of the rest wounded. Every commissioned and non-commissioned officer’s horse except one was either killed or wounded. The men of the battery now retired or were carried to the rear, when our second line charged upon the enemy and retook what was left of the battery and darkness put an end to the fight. My wound is rather severe, though not dangerous (in the right shoulder) and so far rendered me nearly helpless. It will probably disable me three or four weeks. It is from a rifle or musket ball, fired by the enemy not two rods in front of me.

“Now that the excitement of battle was over and the men could see the effects of it, it seemed miraculous that a man escaped the storm of bullets whose marks were everywhere, as thick as the autumnal leaves that strew the vales of Vallambrosa. Every tree and every sapling bore marks of the terrible combat.” (Ingersoll, Lurton, Iowa in the Rebellion, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1866 pg. 106)

Lieutenant Neil continues: “After attending to the wounded the night after the fight at Iuka, all members of the battery were ordered to a rendezvous. They were all assembled by 5 A.M. and, after reverently burying our dead, the men turned their attention to securing the guns and equipment scattered over the field. The drivers cried softly as they removed the harness from their faithful mounts. In one mass lay 18 dead horses. These three teams, instead of trying to escape, had swung together and died together. Early in the morning after the battle, Rosecrans ordered me to refit the battery as rapidly as possible. After the guns’ spikes were removed, the pieces were found to be in serviceable order and work on the splintered carriages was begun.” (Neil, Henry Moore & John Benjamin Sanborn. A Battery at Close Quarters: A Paper Read Before the Ohio Commandery of the Loyal Legion, October 6, 1909. Columbus, OH: The Champlin Press, 1909, pgs. 14-15)

Sears: General Grant with his force did not make his appearance until about 8 o’clock the next morning when the enemy had to skedaddle. I have no definite idea of the number killed and wounded on either side, but it was comparatively large on both. Next to the battery, the 5th Iowa suffered most severely. So far as I can learn, the action of the battery was not only satisfactory to all whose opinions are of consequence but has elicited the highest praise. Colonel Lathrop, chief of artillery, told me on the morning after the fight that he did not believe there was a case on record where a battery had been so badly used up or where the men and officers exhibited more bravery during the engagement.
The balance of the army under Grant and Rosecrans have gone in pursuit of the enemy while what is left of the battery is here to be repaired, recruited, and equipped as soon as possible. You will perceive that the 11th Ohio Battery has experienced the novelty of a fight and though I trust they will exhibit the same bravery if called upon under similar circumstances to do so, I don’t think many of us are really anxious to repeat the action of the 19th. The men not disabled buried the 16 killed together under a shady tree on the battlefield on the morning of the 20th. The wounded are quartered in houses turned into hospitals and having as good care taken of them as circumstances will permit.
11th Ohio Battery graves at Iuka. "The men not disabled buried the 16 killed together under a shady tree on the battlefield on the morning of the 20th," Lieutenant Sears remembered. 

A year after the battle, a captain from the 5th Iowa returned to the battlefield and recorded his description as follows: “I found evidence enough of the fierce and terrible conflict which took place there on the 19th of September 1862. Scarce a tree on all that ground but shows its wounds; the little grove of saplings is literally cut down with balls; but few trees are still living. Where the 11th Ohio Battery stood, the ground is covered with the bleached bones of horses which rattled beneath the feet of our own.” (Ingersoll, Lurton, Iowa in the Rebellion, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1866, pg. 106) 

Lieutenant Sears would be awarded the Medal of Honor his actions at Iuka and would later serve as the Lieutenant Colonel of the 49th U.S. Colored Troops. The medal was awarded to him on December 31, 1892 by President Benjamin Harrison who, like Sears, was a veteran of the Army of the Tennessee. The citation reads: “The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant (Field Artillery) Cyrus Sears, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 19 September 1862, while serving with Battery 11, Ohio Light Artillery, in action at Iuka, Mississippi. Although severely wounded, First Lieutenant Sears fought his battery until the cannoneers and horses were nearly all killed or wounded.”

Sears read the letter cited in this post at a battery reunion held at Cincinnati on September 7, 1898 “to revive and refresh the memories of his comrades concerning the 11th Battery’s part in that famous battle and to better acquaint them with the official records that are preserved to posterity.” (Ryan, Daniel J. The Civil War Literature of Ohio, Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company, 1911, pg. 377)

For further reading on the Iuka and Corinth campaigns, I recommend Peter Cozzens’ masterful Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth which is available through Amazon or on the secondary book market.

Also, I'd recommend checking out Phil Spaugy's blog posts about the 11th Ohio Battery at:


  1. Really excellent work in pulling together these first person accounts!


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